Tag Archives: I-35

Bombshell – Gov. Abbott & Lt. Gov. Patrick Quash I-35 Toll Lane Plan!

By Bill Oakey – November 18, 2017

The plot thickens in one of the wildest and most twisted tales in Texas transportation history. In a recent blog posting, I lamented the fact that most of our local officials were kept in the dark about the massive $8 billion plan to put 4 new “managed toll lanes” on I-35.  The press release announcing the project caught Travis County Commissioners completely off guard, including the “Road Warriar,” Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. I submitted a detailed list of questions to  quite a few local officials, only to be told that they had not been included in the process. And that they had just as many questions of their own. Really? Yes, really.

Now the whole plan has been blown to bits by both Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In a revealing report, the Texas Tribune explains that in 2014 and 2015, statewide voters approved two Constitutional amendments for highway funding. Each of them authorized the State to send billions of tax dollars to the Texas Department of Transportation, specifically for non-tolled roadway projects. The State’s two top leaders said they acted on behalf of Legislators and their constituents. These folks have complained loudly about road-building plans across the State that contain mostly managed toll lanes. The bombshell hit late Thursday, when State transportation officials announced that they are dropping several of the major toll lane plans, including the one for I-35.

But the drama doesn’t end there. The State Attorney General has been asked to issue an opinion on the legality of an accounting trick that was built into the toll lane plans. The Transportation Dept. had sought to use funds from the voter-approved tax dollars to build or upgrade free lanes. And then use a mixture of Federal money and other funds to build toll lanes next to the free lanes. While you are reading this, heads are rolling and a battle rages over who gets to do what with a limited amount of transportation dollars.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released this statement:

AUSTIN – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued the following statement today in response to recent reports that the latest Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Unified Transportation Plan (UTP) includes the addition of 15 managed toll lanes:

“I oppose adding any additional toll lanes to TxDOT’s UTP. I fought against increasing the state’s reliance on toll roads as a state senator and I have continued that fight as lieutenant governor. The Texas Legislature worked hard to pass Proposition 7 in 2015 to provide billions in funding for transportation infrastructure to help eliminate the state’s need for additional toll roads. Eliminating the need for tolls was one of the primary reasons the Texas Legislature passed Prop 7 and why Texas voters approved it. No new toll roads have been approved by the Senate or the House in the last two sessions and legislators I have spoken with are very unhappy that the Commission seems now to be going in a direction that opposes the will of the legislature and the majority of Texans.

“I spoke with TxDOT Commissioner Bruce Bugg yesterday and reminded him of the legislature’s commitment to reducing tolls. I sent a letter to the Commissioner today asking him to revise the UTP and develop a plan that contains no additional toll lanes.”

To view Lt. Gov. Patrick’s letter to Commissioner Bugg click here.

 What Are the Pros and Cons of Managed Toll Lanes?

I remain both fascinated and befuddled by the theory for managed toll lanes. Advocates claim that they reduce congestion better than free lanes. Why? Because, they say, newly added free lanes would fill up quickly. Therefore, high-priced tolls serve as a wedge to keep too many drivers from clogging up the roads. But let’s step back from that argument for a moment. What if people absolutely need to use that road to get somewhere? Increased population drives up the demand. Keep pouring water into a bucket, and sooner or later, it will overflow. Managed toll lanes reduce the capacity, while year after year the demand keeps rising. Gosh, you don’t suppose that a City like Austin could get so crowded that we can’t accommodate any more people. Of course not. Never! We need to recruit more people to come here as fast as they can…More! More!

With managed toll lanes, the big winners are the wealthy folks who can past everybody else in the faster moving lanes. What many Texans may not know is that managed toll lanes in countless other cities started out with “manageable” rates. Then over time, as congestion increased, they jacked up the rates. Google it and you will see $14 and higher peak toll rates popping up all over the country. Try doing the math on a daily commute with $14 times 2, times 21 workdays per month. Ka-Ching, that’s $588.00! And that assumes that you can get there without using more than one toll road. (See another Texas Tribune article, “Texans Driven Mad As Tolls Burn Holes In Their Wallets.”)

So, What Happens Next?

Lucky us! We’re going to get a citywide rail system. That won’t cost more than $15 or $20 billion. And if you believe that, I’ve got another promise for you. Some sweet day, the Legislature will wake up and realize that balancing State budgets on the backs of residential property taxpayers has reached its sustainable limit. All they have to do is project it out on a chart for the next five years and the next ten years. Or else they can ignore the problem and wait for the public backlash.

Gosh, you don’t suppose businesses could pay their fair share of taxes? You don’t suppose they could pay sustainable wages? Sorry, I just get crazy ideas once in a while. Please don’t hold it against me.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)” – The Bellamy Brothers
  2. “Life In the Fast Lane” – The Desperado Dreamers (Eagles Tribute)
  3. “On the Road Again” – Willie Nelson
  4. “Hot Rod Lincoln” – Johnny Bond
  5. “Lost Highway” – Johnny Horton
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Questions About The New I-35 Proposal That Need Answers

By Bill Oakey – November 2, 2017

The new “Capital Express” proposal to improve I-35 may be the most important Austin transportation initiative in our lifetime. To not “get it right” would be a monumental mistake. Every local official has a big stake in the process. I believe that the City and Travis County should review the proposal, consider it carefully, and get clear, detailed answers to several very serious questions.

TxDot’s initial announcement to the media was severely lacking in the most basic, common-sense details that almost any citizen would want to know. As a result, the public reaction in comments to the American-Statesman and other forums ranges from skepticism to outright condemnation. The announcement was a major public relations disaster.

Here is a list of questions that I am asking our local officials to pose to TxDot and the principal players who developed the proposal. Of course I respect the fact that they may have additional questions of their own.

These Are Very Basic Questions

1. If the highway will not be made any wider, how would the proposal add vehicle capacity?

2. Does the plan add new lanes by making all lanes narrower, as was done on MoPac?

3. What will be the total number of lanes in each direction?

4. If the upper deck from MLK to Airport Blvd. is eliminated, wouldn’t that by itself result in a net loss of vehicle capacity?

5. Why not keep the upper deck and preserve that vehicle capacity?

6. What is the total number of lane-miles on I-35 today vs. total lane-miles under the Capital Express proposal?

7. What is the net gain or net loss in free lane-miles?

8. Why not have just two managed toll lanes instead of four?

9. Starting from this year’s vehicle load, how many additional vehicles are projected to be using I-35 over the next 10 or 15 years? And does the Capital Express Proposal meet that need?

10. Are there any maps, sketches or diagrams that show a net gain in lane capacity under the proposal?

11. Are there any other metrics known today or being planned that would provide additional assurance that this proposal will in fact relieve traffic congestion along the Austin portion of I-35?

Please understand that the $8 billion price tag, combined with the unpopular notion of more toll lanes begs for the clearest possible explanation to the public as to why this plan is the best plan that could have been devised.